How to change your life in a month

Christine Long -Jun 30, 2015

The author, with the copy of 'The One-Minute Millionaire' she found lying on a footpath. Photo: James Alcock

Procrastination: if it came with a salary I'd be a millionaire. Like anyone else, I can have a long list of things I should do with my money that I never seem to get around to.

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So I set myself a challenge: make one small change to my money every day for a month. Here are the things I tried.

Day 1 Work out annual income and expenditure

Income from various sources, mortgage repayments, strata levies, council rates, mobile bills. Some areas it's easy to see where the money comes from and where it goes. But when it comes to spending on clothes, food and going out it's guesswork.

Day 2 Track spending for a week

This mirror to my money shows just how much I'm spending on coffee, picking up pre-prepared Woolies dinners, and catch-ups with friends that involve eating out.

Day 3 Set a spending plan

It's clear: my spending needs better boundaries. I set a weekly allowance for spending on food, coffee, going out, and regular expenses such as mobile, internet, petrol and public transport. Now to test drive it for the rest of the month. Can I stick to it?

Day 4 Revert to a cash economy

I've fallen into the habit of withdrawing money whenever my purse was empty or just paying by a card. Now each Friday I pull out my cash allowance for the week. When it's gone, it's gone.

Day 5 Rein in spontaneous spending

Having a finite amount of cash in my purse each week really reduces unplanned spending. When I'm tempted to "just have a little look" in a few favourite shops I channel my inner financial coach and tell myself to stay away unless I've got money to spend.

Day 6 Declutter financial paperwork

Piles of paperwork kept for tax purposes clog my office. Time for a cull: anything more than five financial years old gets turfed.

Next, I download the Expensify app so I can scan my receipts in future.

Day 7 Set a mini financial challenge

It's easy to spend a lot on going out. I decide to see how much enjoyment I can squeeze out of $50 in one weekend. Plenty apparently. Friday night dinner and drinks with friends at a local cheapie ($20); Saturday brunch with a friend - I go for a cappuccino and a jaffle instead of a big breakfast ($12); Saturday evening is dinner at home with a friend; Sunday morning my local cinema offers bargain tickets for a documentary I'd been wanting to see ($6) plus coffee ($4). Afterwards we head to a packed Star City to watch a boxing match (free; parking $8).

Day 8 Cut one redundant monthly expense

A few years ago spending $23 a month on a Quickflix DVD subscription seemed like a good idea. Not any more.

Day 9 Save for a short-term goal

A ticket to a dance performance is in my sights. Under my new spending regime it would suck up 1½ weeks' worth of my weekly going out allowance. I put money aside for three weeks to spread the cost.

Day 10 Simplify one financial arrangement

My technology arrangements have become shambolic: two old phones, two different phone plans plus mobile broadband. Ditching my phones, one phone plan and the mobile broadband saves me $100 per month.

Day 11 Seek advice

As someone who has been self-employed for about 14 years, my retirement savings could be in better shape. My super fund offers a free one-hour consultation with a financial planner. It's a handy sounding board and helps me set a longer-term savings strategy. First step: change my investment choice.

Day 12 Make one change to the way you talk or think about money

I spot a book The One-Minute Millionaire lying on a footpath, pick it up and start reading. Straight away, it makes me aware of how often "I can't afford it" creeps into my conversations about money. I make a pact to keep my lips zipped on that front in future.

Day 13 Move towards a medium-term financial goal

Buying a piece of art has been on the wish list for a while.

I apply for a no-interest loan for buying art. Now for some gallery-hopping.

Day 14 Plug a leak

I'm a frequent visitor at my local library but the books, DVDs and magazines I borrow don't always go back when they should. Still, I'm horrified to discover I've paid 26 overdue fines totalling $186.10 this financial year. That would have covered my quarterly water bill. Library staff print out a copy of my shame file and I stick it on my fridge as a reminder to renew or return items on time.

Day 15 Sell some stuff

There's a drinking fountain my cat has never used and a few books on my overflowing shelves that I'm happy to live without. I pop them all on Gumtree. No takers so far.

Day 16 Make an asset work harder

I check out the Car Next Door website to see if I can make some extra dollars

renting out my car. I'm happy to use a car occasionally and cycle, walk or take public transport the rest of the time. The idea goes on the back-burner for now when I find I don't meet all the scheme's criteria.

Day 17 Check your credit file

My application for the no-interest art loan scheme prompts an alert that there's been some activity on my credit file. To make sure all is well I get a free copy of my file.

Day 18 Spend nothing for 24 hours

What's it like to spend nothing for a day? I decide to find out. From 6am to 6am the following day I will not spend a cent. How hard can it be? Actually, it's an avenue to delight. I get a fresh perspective on my neighbourhood because I don't head straight to my favourite cafe on my morning walk. I get caught out, though, when an art exhibition opening charges $2 for a cider. Serendipitously, I find $2 on the way home.

Day 19 Find a way to buy or do something that seems beyond your means

A holiday would be lovely but it's not part of my spending plan at the moment. So I'm thrilled when I receive two offers of low-cost getaways. A friend invites me to her cousin's farm on the South Coast and another asks me to house-sit in the Southern Highlands while she's overseas. They are the perfect little pick-me-ups.

Day 20 Make a donation or give something away

A local cafe has a book swap so I pop some of my literary overflow on their shelves. I sign up to do a walk led by some people entering an Oxfam Trailwalker challenge. The price of walking the 12 kilometres on a sunny Saturday morning is a small donation. It's a double-shot of feel-good factor.

Day 21 Cut a quarterly or annual expense

With plenty of choice in the utilities market, I wonder if I can reduce my electricity bill. I key the details from my latest bill into the iSelect website and discover I can save about $100 a year if I switch providers. Surprisingly, my usage is below average for a similar household in my area.

Day 22 Have a tiny treat

A couple of weeks into my new spending regime I get the itch to spend beyond my boundaries. So I set aside some of my allowance for a tiny treat. One week it's a beautiful rose-scented facial moisturiser; another some scented candles. It makes me feel pampered and helps me stick to my spending plan.

Day 23 Prepare for the unexpected

I turn my intention to be better prepared for the unexpected into action and organise income protection and life insurance cover via my super fund.

Day 24 Increase your savings

Interest rates will inevitably rise again. I turn back the clock on my mortgage repayments and set a goal of paying what it was four years ago when rates were higher.

Day 25 Find an income boost

It's been a few years since I raised the prices charged by my small business. From today I'll be asking clients to pay a little more.

Day 26 Shop around for one item

An upgrade of my phone is overdue. I research potential contenders for about three weeks then pounce.

Day 27 Learn a new skill

A refresher course on how to build a website for nothing would be handy. I find a free afternoon workshop and sign up.

Day 28 Make, repair, recycle or repurpose something

My kitchen curtains need a revamp. By switching around some other curtains I avoid forking out for a new pair. While I'm at it I make a cushion, a project that's been on the drawing board for a while.

Day 29 Unhook from the credit card

Unexpected expenses - including the death of my hot water system - have left emergency funds depleted and my low-limit credit card overloaded.

When my credit card expires I use it as an opportunity to shift some of my direct credit arrangements to my debit card. It's another step towards operating from a cash economy.

Day 30 Put time or money into maintenance

In this case I choose my health. My gym membership expired in March and as a result I was feeling less fit. Poor health could cost me in the long run so I re-join the gym and resume my regular round of classes.

The Verdict:

Some of the things I tried worked. Some didn't. But taking a month to make a series of changes really helped me focus on how I wanted to be using my money. Things change and the way we spend can stay the same.

It made me conscious of bad habits that had been creeping in (those library fines were a shocker!) and helped me look beyond day-to-day bills to my medium- and long-term financial plans.

It's worth cooking at home more if it means having some original art on my walls or paying off my mortgage sooner.

I'll definitely continue with my weekly spending plan. Rather than making me feel deprived it makes me more resourceful and less impulsive in the way I spend.

I'd love to repeat this challenge in six months' time and see what a difference it has made.

Source: m.smh.com.au

Category: Bank

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